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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Sam's Club

February 29, 2016

I had to make a run to Sam’s Club yesterday morning to purchase 75 pounds of flour for one of our restaurants to get us through the day until the supply-truck delivery the next morning.

I find myself in Sam’s Club about once a year, and that’s enough. We do all of our purchasing for the restaurants through suppliers that deliver to our door, but it was nice that I could pop in for an emergency purchase.

As I was walking the quarter mile through the store that led to the bulk food items, I remembered back to the first time I ever visited a Sam’s Club. It was in the late 1980s and my brother was living in Memphis. He took me to a huge warehouse and told me that it was named for Sam Walton, you had to be a member, and the place carried everything from clothes, to lawn equipment, to food.

I think I was probably in awe on that first visit. I had never really seen anything like it. I can’t remember if I purchased anything, but if I did, it was probably a whole lot of whatever it was, and certainly way more than I needed.

A few years later a Sam’s Club opened in Jackson. I told my fiancé and soon-to-be mother-in-law about this new concept of joining a “club” that let its members purchase products— mostly in bulk— for close-to-wholesale prices, and they both wanted to go. That was my first mistake.

I sometimes can’t keep my mouth shut. It’s one of those situations where you hear the words coming out of your mouth and halfway through the statement you realize that it’s something that you never should have said, but you can’t stop your lips from moving in time to back pedal on the offer.

I have done that several times with cats. My wife loves cats. Seriously, she really has a thing for cats. If something ever happened to me, you could go visit my house in a year and there will be cats crawling all over everything, dozens of them. The only thing keeping her from being THAT person is the fact that my heart is still beating.

I am a dog person. Though several times in our almost 30-year relationship— and even though we were living happily together in a feline-free environment at the time— I have come across a cat for sale or another such opportunity and blurted out, “Would you like a kitten?” Each time as the words were moving from my frontal lobe to my vocal chords I knew it was a terrible idea. Yet I somehow couldn’t stop the word flow mid-statement. Consequently a cat, along with all of its hair, and its litter box would come to live at our house for the next decade. There are two there as I type. They outnumber my one dog mainly because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

Back to the joys of shopping at a Sam’s Club. As I stated my first mistake was offering to drive my fiancé and soon-to-be mother-in-law 70 miles north to shop. My second mistake was to take them in my Honda Accord.

It was a fairly pleasurable and mostly uneventful ride up to Jackson. Though the moment those two stepped through the doors and had their first Sam’s Club moment, it was all over. They looked like those wild-eyed and maniacal shoppers on Black Friday. The only problem was this was a Tuesday in April.

They filled up the first cart within five minutes. It was packed with mostly toilet paper and paper towels. There might have been a few 3,000-count packs of napkins in there too. After 25 minutes I was asked to switch carts with my wife. She gave me the second cart that was filled with groceries— mostly Diet Coke several dozen boxes of 100-count frozen chicken breasts, and what looked like a 50-gallon drum of peanut butter.

I have spent my life in the restaurant business purchasing items in bulk and, even still, Sam’s Club sometimes makes me blush. I was standing in the free sample section near the frozen foods when I saw them headed into the furniture section. I corralled them and reminded them that my small four-door sedan wasn’t going to be able to hold a gardening table, so they headed to the beach towel section where they secured enough towelage to supply a Panhandle beach resort.

The shopping frenzy ended when I told them that I wasn’t going to purchase a new freezer just to hold the frozen food items that they were eyeballing. We checked out and, with the help of a parade of Sam’s Club employees, wheeled the products through the parking lot to my Honda Accord.

The next challenge was the load-in. I have always prided myself on being an efficient packer. Whether in a suitcase, a trunk, or a back seat, I seem to have a unique talent of fitting a lot of stuff into a small, compact area. This was the storage challenge that might land me in the packing hall of fame.

The ride home was quiet, mostly because none of us could see each other. My wife, who was seated in the passenger seat, and I were divided by several dozen flats of canned fruits and vegetables. The trunk was filled with numerous 50-pound sacks of cat litter, once again because I can’t control my tongue. My soon-to-be mother-in-law was seated in the back seat surrounded by enough toilet paper to supply a few army battalions through several years of desert combat. She had toilet paper to her right, to her left, in her lap, and behind her head. There was a very small opening that she was able to stick her face through allowing her to not suffocate among the Charmin.

It was our last trip to Sam’s Club as a family.

These days I shop in the grocery store located a few blocks from my home and in the parking lot where I work. It is locally owned and our family has somehow managed to never endure a toilet paper or paper towel shortage that ever led to a major family crisis. They also carry cat litter in manageable amounts.


Stuffed Tomatoes

From the Hyperion book New South Grilling by Robert St. John


6 large tomatoes, not too ripe

2 Tbl Olive Oil

1/4  cup Shallot, minced

2 Tbl Yellow onion, minced

1/4  tsp Salt

1/4  tsp Black Pepper

1/2  cup Tomato pulp, scooped from the tomatoes and chopped

1 Tbl Orange juice

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4  cup Pesto

1/3 cup Seasoned Italian bread crumbs


Remove the core of the tomatoes and slice across the very top of the tomato. Using a teaspoon scoop out about 1 Tbl of the pulp from each tomato and roughly chop it.

Over low heat, heat olive oil in a small sauté pan. In the sauté pan cook the shallot, onion, salt, and pepper for 5 minutes. Add the tomato pulp, orange juice, and Worcestershire sauce and cook 4-5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto.

Divide the mixture evenly among the hollowed-out tomatoes. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the tops of the tomatoes.

Prepare the grill. Cook tomatoes over direct medium heat for 5 minutes, rotating tomatoes one-quarter turn and cooking for 3-5 minutes more. Serve immediately.



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